Fire training in Fort St. James

Each year the Fire Rescue Team in Fort St. James practises entering a burning building with a training session.

Fire Chief Michael Navratil is about to enter the training building after igniting a fire to simulate a real-life situation.

Once started, a fire can burn through a modern-day home over five times faster than an older home considering the type of fuel. Where older homes are built with solid wood, newer homes have particle board and synthetics. Nonetheless, a fire can rip through any building faster than people can escape sometimes, so it’s always good to be prepared, said Fort St. James Fire Chief Michael Navratil.

“We’ve got [wild fires] all around us but were doing alright. We had a couple little ones in the past few weeks but they were contained and were lucky they were,” said Fire Chief Navratil.

The Fire Rescue Team in Fort St. James held a training session on last Thursday in the two-storey concrete structure behind the North Arm Pub and Public Works. The building mimics the first floor and basement of a house.

“Many times we are going down into a fire so this will simulate that. It’s called a blow grade fire attack,” said Fire Chief Navratil.

Typically firefighters will suite up inside the truck on their way to a call and then pull the hose from the speedlay (hose holder) for immediate use. For training purposes the volunteers had the hose already laid out and were able to focus on properly dressing themselves.

“We’re starting from scratch. It’s much quicker if were going to a fire and plus, it’s hot out.” said Chief Navratil.

A firefighter uniform can add around 70 extra pounds and consists of flame retardant boots, pants, coat, gloves, helmet, and air pack. Using a buddy check system each firefighter must check their partner to make sure no skin is showing, their pants are secure and their coat is on properly.

Once everything has been checked, the water is on, and the delegating officer outside gives the go ahead, the attack team can approach the entry. But before entering someone must remove their glove and use the back of their hand to find the ‘hot spot’ of the door. This is where the thermal line is and determines how low they can walk in the building.

“If we get there early enough the line will be higher up. The line also tells us where the gases are that can be upwards of 800 degrees. Ive gone into structures were a big-screen TV top is melted and the bottom in fine,” said Alex Gross, 25, who is currently the training officer and in charge of delegating over radio from outside the building. It is also his job, prior to entry, to do a walk around spotting gas, oil or hydro lines and to notify BC Hydro or PNG if there are any.

After finding the hot spot, the firefighter must then check the floor with an axe or halligan (multi-purpose tool) to sound the floor and make sure it is structurally safe to enter.

“This [practise building] is concrete but most residences are wood so this will let us know if we can enter or will the floor fall,” said Mr. Gross.

If it’s ok to enter, it will be completely black inside and since they won’t be able to see anything most of the time, it’s essential to follow the walls and open doors to search each room. There are two types of teams that will enter the building. An attack team and a rescue team.

“For tonight we just did an all-in-one just to train and have us thinking that way,” said Chief Navratil.

Richard Sutton, 25, and Davin Birdi, 17,are fire fighter volunteers and went into the burning building a couple times for practise.

“It’s nice to be apart of the community. It allows you to give back, you learn some life saving skills, and plus, you get to hang out with sparky,” said Mr. Sutton.

Firefighter volunteers are low, especially during the summer months, said Chief Navratil. If anyone is interested in becoming an on-call paid-volunteer firefighter call 250-996-8670 and talk to nancy for an application.